Pomp and Circumstance

Commencement ceremonies steeped in tradition

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jul 22, 2019) — Each semester at Kennesaw State University is capped by thousands of new graduates crossing the Convocation Center stage in the time-honored tradition of the Commencement ceremonies, each of which are packed with customs and regalia unique to the occasion.
As more than 1,400 students prepare to receive their diplomas in three summer Commencement ceremonies this week, take a moment to become familiar with some of the traditions observed following the School of Music Brass Ensemble’s rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Commencement Bagpiper
Winter Taylor plays bagpipes at a 2010 KSU commencement ceremonyAfter all graduates have entered the Convocation Center, a processional led by the Commencement bagpiper enters the arena floor. Introduced by then-President Betty Siegel, the tradition traces its roots to the University’s June 14, 1997 ceremony, when Joel McGinnis became the first person to hold the distinction of Commencement bagpiper. According to retired College of the Arts Dean Joseph Meeks, Siegel was inspired to introduce a bagpiper to give the ceremony a greater sense of regality. Norman Livermore took over bagpiping responsibilities in March 1998 until ultimately passing the role to the late Winter Taylor, who performed her duties in a distinctive yellow and black tartan kilt special made for the Commencement bagpiper. After Taylor’s untimely passing in January 2012, a student of hers, Tom Crawford, took her place and has continued to serve in the role. Taylor’s kilt has since been donated to the KSU Archives.
Kennesaw State University Marshals and Batons
Faculty members are chosen to serve as marshals and to assist in the ceremony. These marshals carry KSU batons, designed and crafted by professor emeritus of biology Bowman Davis. The hand-turned staffs are made out of walnut and feature a hand-carved stylized owl complete with an ebony finish to reflect the styling of the mace. The tips of the batons are finished in gold leaf, and gold and black tassels complete the batons.
Kennesaw State University Mace
The honor of leading the dais party in the academic procession is given to the chair of the Faculty Senate, who this year is Jennifer W. Purcell, associate professor of leadership studies. The chief faculty marshal carries the mace, which is a ceremonial staff and is symbolic of the rich traditions of higher education. The practice of carrying a mace dates back to the Middle Ages, when the mace was designed to be used as a weapon. It was carried by a respected senior member of the community who was chosen to protect and guide the leaders as their group traveled through crowded streets.
The KSU mace was designed by Patrick Taylor, former chairman of the Department of Visual Arts, and hand-crafted on campus. The polished bronze handgrip is actually a stylized owl. The owl is Kennesaw State's mascot as well as the symbol of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. The globe near the top of the mace represents graduates going out into the world. Topping the globe is the traditional symbol of higher education – a lamp of learning, with a flame representing the quest for knowledge. A large bronze medallion displaying the university seal is part of the globe, and the festive ribbons streaming from the crown that cradles the globe represent the university colors.
The Chain of Office
The president of the University wears a gold chain and medallion around her neck, denoting the status of president and the presiding authority over the ceremony. The medallion bears the official university seal. The Kennesaw State University seal is an adaptation of the state seal of Georgia with Kennesaw Mountain in the background. M. Thomson Salter III, professor emeritus of art, and a charter member of the faculty, designed the seal.
Academic Cords, Stoles and Pins
The caps and gowns worn at commencement connect contemporary graduates with scholarly tradition that dates back as long as universities have existed. However, graduates who have qualified for membership in registered student organization honor societies and department discipline honor programs often set themselves apart by wearing brightly colored honor chords, stoles and pins. Students who hold multiple members ships may wear multiple pieces of regalia. To learn which organization each color represents, click here.
Banners suspended on a crossbar, gonfalons are another piece of medieval history that has been incorporated into academic tradition. The gonfalons reflect a timeless style, incorporate the University's colors and represent the current 13 KSU colleges.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu